HC 101H: The Chemistry and Poetry of Change

Professor: Rachel Rodman

Credits: 4.00

• CRN 16612: Tuesday & Thursday, 1215-1345 @ LLCN 125

Change is central to life. Cells divide. Organisms grow and die. We take molecules from sources as diverse as goat cheese and blackberries (plants, in parallel, pluck them from the air) and we use them to build our own bodies. In this course, we’ll explore these changes: what they are, how and why they happen, and how writers in multiple genres have used this theme to effect in their work.We’ll start with building blocks—atoms. With the assistance of three poetic sources: J. C. Sellar’s collection Chemistianity, Primo Levi’s memoir The Periodic Table, and Mary Soon Lee’s Elemental Haiku, we’ll delve into the periodic table. From atoms, we’ll explore how matter passes through ecosystems. We’ll frame our discussion with reflections on decay and transformation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (e.g., “a man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king”). Within this framework, we’ll delve into the science of nutrient cycles and food webs.

We’ll conclude by considering a different kind of life change: metamorphosis. We’ll see how this sort of transition (caterpillar to butterfly; tadpole to frog) is also driven by chemistry. And we’ll look at creative ways that the concept has been explored in fiction.Sharpening our writing and revision skills will be a major focus of the course. Major projects will include a research report and an analytical essay about the poetry of Mary Soon Lee and a creative writing project modeled after descriptions of chemical transformation in Hamlet.